Monday, February 11, 2008

General Gauthier: "Canada Is Winning In Kandahar"

I hope MoveOn comes up with a snappy gimmick like they did with their "General Patraeus or General Betray Us" schtick.

The Globe reports:

Secret military statistics show that Taliban attacks have decreased in Kandahar's core districts in the past year, illustrating the success of Canada's new strategy of pulling back its troops into the heart of the province, a top military commander says.

Insurgent ambushes have fallen in four of Kandahar's 17 districts as the latest rotation of troops has focused on protecting the vital zone around the provincial capital, said Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, although he did not give specific numbers.

The assertion that Canadian forces have created a bright spot amid the darkening security picture in southern Afghanistan represents the military's first detailed response to several academic reports in recent months that have described NATO as losing the war.

Gen. Gauthier, commander of all Canadian forces overseas, invited reporters for an unusually open discussion in Kandahar during the weekend, taking questions for nearly an hour in an attempt to show that his troops are making progress.

Geographic focus was a key part of the general's assessment. While saying that security has improved in the districts of Panjwai, Zhari, Spin Boldak and Kandahar city, he repeatedly declined to comment about the provincial situation as a whole.


"Afghans will be better off, in those areas where we're focused," Gen. Gauthier said. "You can only do so much with the troops that you have. You've got to make those tough decisions. You've got to take Kandahar and bite it off, one bite at a time, and that's effectively what we've done here."

In places just beyond the Canadians' zone of control, the Taliban have established a parallel court system, enforced curfews, and mounted road checkpoints.

But Gen. Gauthier described his troops in a dilemma similar to that faced by a hospital triage nurse, deciding which patients require the most urgent attention: "You have to prioritize," he said.

Gen. Gauthier has served as the guiding hand behind the Afghan mission for the past two years, leading Canadian Expeditionary Force Command. Previously the head of military intelligence, and now making his 20th visit to Afghanistan, he described himself as one of the officers who can speak with the most authority on Canada's military progress.


Along with looking at the level of violence, Gen. Gauthier also suggested that his troops have carved out a foothold for reconstruction and development in Kandahar. But a journalist pointed out that many aid agencies have withdrawn their non-essential staff from Kandahar in recent weeks, fearing a rise in Taliban activity.

"Right," the commander replied. "And I suppose we need to find a way to deal with the perception issue, because it's all about perception."


The most recent rotation of Canadian troops has recaptured the outposts lost by ANAP last year. The new Afghan forces guarding those positions have a stronger system of Canadian mentors, he said, and it's unlikely that the Taliban will retake the outposts when the heaviest part of the fighting season starts in late May.

"Now, we have police in the same places," Gen. Gauthier said. "They're there, and they haven't come under serious attack, and the question will be, where are they in the May-to-September time frame?"

This year will likely see a decrease in violence in the districts where Canadian forces are concentrated, he added. He did not make predictions about the rest of Kandahar province.

"There is a finish line somewhere down the road," he said. "We are moving toward that finish line."

Emphasis mine.

There's video of the interview here.

It's a good interview and Gauthier clearly goes out of his way to be open and reassuring about the Canadian mission and the progress being made in Afghanistan. I can't imagine what he said will change many opinions though and no doubt his claim that Canada is winning in Kandahar will be met with the usual skepticism.

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